Writing Alternative “Facts”

Audio Edition Coming Soon!

 

My first and pretty much only experience with the “Choose Your Own Adventure” genre of books was, unfortunately, with Goosebumps. “Reader Beware, YOU Choose the Scare!” As someone who perceives stories in a very linear way and prefers to know “what really happened,” this type of book was an exercise in frustration. This was before I was exposed to role-playing games of any kind, although I am more acclimated to this style of story-telling in video games thanks to RPGs from Bioware and otome from Steamberry Studio.

But there still is part of me that gets very frustrated with multiple storylines or multiple routes, especially with books. I don’t do well with stories that tackle multiverses, alternate timelines, or transporter accidents. I want to know the proper order of events, the single “right way” to experience the story… and that just isn’t present in that style of writing. All of the “facts” are equally plausible. (Well, at least, they are if the game or book is good.)

So imagine my surprise when I found myself writing just this kind of story for my day job.

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Some Lessons Learned During Quarantine

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Two and a half months off of work, with pay, is a luxury that a lot of people did not (and continue to not) receive during the COVID-19 pandemic. At my day job, the shutdown came swiftly in mid-March. (For context, I work in a small branch of a public non-profit library system.) At first we thought we would be closed for two weeks. Then it became “indefinite.” I was only required to put in an hour or two of work from home each shift, be it watching a webinar or doing some kind of online engagement through Facebook with our patrons. With so little being required of me, you’d think that I would have gotten so much done during those two and half months. It’s not like I don’t have a backlog of Audio Editions to work through, or a schedule of Obscure Books From Childhood entries to get ahead on, or short stories to transcribe, or a bloody novel to finish writing.

But I did none of these things.

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Impact of the Episodic

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Self-contained, episodic storytelling has fallen by the wayside in a lot of cinematic media, particularly for live-action television shows. Now the emphasis is on long-form story-telling suitable for the new era of binge-watching. The technology allowing one to stream episodes on demand rather than planning out your week by the TV guide and waiting for reruns if, heaven forbid, you missed an episode, has changed the nature of the storytelling format. I don’t think that is a bad thing, especially since I love “novels for television.” I do love long-running arcs that explore repercussions of the choices that characters make, sometimes only showing the full effect seasons later.

Image from IMDB

But I think that sometimes the power of self-contained episodes gets ignored or brushed off as a relic solely related to the technology that distributed it. Just because a show is comprised of self-contained episodes does not necessarily compromise its impact. A collection of short stories linked by the same characters can be just as powerful as a single giant novel. In some cases, it can be even more effective, depending on the kind of stories you want to tell. This is something I’ve really come to understand and appreciate as my friend Fox and I spend our evenings watching Star Trek: The Next Generation through Netflix Parties.

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Multimedia Star Wars Day Collection

I was going to write something all moody and self-pitying (and still might sometime soon) but then I remembered today was May 4th and therefore Star Wars Day, which is cause for celebration! I’ve written before about how much Star Wars influenced me, both personally and creatively, and at the moment I have nothing new to add to that conversation, other than another long fan-girl squeal. So instead of boring you with a ramble, I’m sharing some fun things around the internet, all Star Wars related, that you might enjoy:

 

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It’s Not The Same… Writing At Different Stages of Life

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I love it when people comment on posts because it leads me down new avenues of thought and discussion that I hadn’t considered before. When I shared my post entitled “When Canon & Commentary Collide” about the retroactive changes made to preexisting work by J.K. Rowling and George Lucas, my friend David Greenshell had this to say:

I think it’s important to consider that it’s not JUST about the visual effects. As writers, we know that you can’t write the same story at 20 that you can at 30. As you change, your sensibilities change… so 1997 George Lucas actually isn’t fully able to reproduce what 1977 George Lucas would have wanted. By modifying the movies, he inevitably makes them a product of 1997 — not just technologically, but creatively.

And David is absolutely right. The stories that you can and do tell change depending on your age. You shift focus as you gain experience. The stories you are drawn to or are interested in telling change. The characters you relate to and want to write about evolve. And whenever there is a large gap between installments of work, especially if they are in a series, you can usually tell the difference.

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When Canon & Commentary Collide: What Is “Part of the Story”?

This entry is part of the “Spoiled By Supplements” blog series.

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Image by geralt on Pixabay

Some people care about this topic more than others. For myself, I prefer to know what is part of the story and what is mere speculation, fan fiction, or notes on things that didn’t go anywhere. My time is both finite and valuable, so I want to know what is necessary and what is supplemental. These kinds of things can be interesting to know about, like reading a movie script to learn what was originally intended, see how it was actually executed on screen, and understand why it was cut or redone. These kinds of “alternate realities” are intriguing from an academic point of view. And a lot of artistic creation involves a lot of people, so seeing how the final product differs or adheres to the original vision and why it changed or stayed the same is pretty neat.

But how “final” is that final product? In an age where it’s easier and easier to make changes, from releasing Special Editions with CGI edits, changing a character’s design due to fan outcry, or redoing the CGI of an entire movie after it was released in theaters, it becomes harder and harder to call something “finished.”

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Overlapping & Long-Running Stories: Where’s The Entry Point?

This entry is part of the “Spoiled By Supplements” blog series.

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Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

Every story has a beginning, middle, and end.

Or do they?

Stories are carefully crafted illusions that are supposed to make sense in a way that life does not. Most of the time it’s a simple matter of picking up the book, popping in the DVD, or opening up the comic to start the story. You follow it all the way through to the end, and you’re done (at least until the sequel comes out). However, there are some stories and mediums where the lines are blurred and the entry point for the story is not nearly as obvious. The prime example I can think of is comics.

I’m still pretty new to the world of comics and graphic novels, and they can be really hard to get into. I remember after watching the Marvel film Doctor Strange, I wanted to learn more about the character. But when I went to look up the comics, I immediately faced a major problem: where should I start?

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Muddled Multimedia Narratives: Where and How Can We Access the Story?

Welcome back everyone! Sorry it took so long to get this next entry to you. I’d gotten really into working on Ravens & Roses during the original day this entry was supposed to be done and didn’t want to derail myself. Then life threw me a family health emergency curveball during the follow-up date, so I’ve been handling that instead of writing. Things are finally calming down and everything is fine, so here we are with the next installment of my “Spoiled By Supplements” blog series. Enjoy!

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Image by myrfa AG Ku on Pixabay

I think that, once a story gets big enough, it’s inevitable that it will start to creep across mediums. Some of that may be due to creative curiosity, to see what kind of take on the story will come out of the medium. Some of it may be from commercial pressure to reach a wider audience or different niches within a potential audience. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with that. A feature length film has different creative restraints from a novel, which is different from a comic book, and so on. It can be interesting to see how the medium shapes or highlights different aspects of a story or further explores the world within that story. It also makes marketing sense to try to reach as many people as possible, and everyone has different mediums they prefer their stories to be in, so why not satisfy everyone?

The problem is that sometimes it can become too sprawling, too widespread, and too muddled for anyone to follow the story properly, or even access it. This can be a real problem for new or more casual fans.

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The Research Trap: How Much Is Too Much?

This entry is part of the “Spoiled By Supplements” blog series.

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Today I want to talk about the first issue that pops up regarding supplemental material, one that plagues pretty much every writer: research.

Unless you are a personal expert at a particular craft or profession, chances are that if you write anything, you’ll have to do some research. Whether that takes the form of interviewing those who do have that knowledge, spending hours following the rabbit hole of Wikipedia links, combing through physical books, or actually going out and doing the thing the characters are doing… it all counts as research. And it can be pretty interesting, although many times it’s a hard slog through reams of material, searching for that one fact that will make your story ring with authenticity.

But there are two traps within the larger trap:

a) Procrastination, and
b) Oversharing what you learned.

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Spoiled by Supplements: How Too Much Material Ruins Writers and Readers

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On Saturday night, my brother Richard and I were having a slightly tipsy discussion about Star Wars. Over time, I’ve grown to enjoy The Last Jedi more, but my brother continues to dislike it and finds a lot of the plot unbelievable. While I was trying to explain, he asked, “Where was that established?” When I told him it was in a Star Wars EU book I’d read, he sighed and said, “But it wasn’t in the movie. You shouldn’t have to read fifteen books or watch twenty films in order to understand why something is happening in this movie.”

While I think he’s still a little too harsh on Star Wars for this failing, he does have a point. As big franchises grow bigger and media becomes even more interconnected, the amount of supplemental material continues to grow… and it isn’t always clear what is supplemental and what is actually necessary in order to understand or appreciate the story. While it’s nice to have a story or characters enriched, and it’s interesting to hear what someone intended or was going for in a commentary or interview, when you leave key pieces of plot, character, and/or motivation to be explained or even addressed in a side comic, you may have a problem. 

The fact is, we as readers and viewers have been spoiled by all of this supplemental material. And I’m afraid it may have an impact on the stories we write and how we construct them. After all, if you’re sure that something will be addressed later in an encyclopedia or short story compilation, it can be easy to forget to establish it at all. That may not be a problem if it’s a side character, but if it directly impacts a major plot point or character arc, then the resolution can seem to come out of left field. Conversely, we can get too detailed if we have too much material to squeeze in or don’t know what to focus on, creating a jumbled mess rather than a streamlined story. We can’t assume that everyone is going to be a die-hard, balls-to-the-wall, completionist type of fan. It’s (usually) fun to find out more about a fictional universe you enjoy, and I’m not against the presence of supplemental material. But there is a Dark Side to the entire affair that I think creators and their audience should be aware of.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I want to address in more detail some main problems with being spoiled by supplemental material including a few (possibly overlapping) case studies:

Issue 1: The Research Trap: How much is too much?
Case study: The Earth’s Children historical fiction series by Jean M. Auel

Issue 2: Incomplete/Muddled Multimedia Story-Telling: Where and how can we access the story?
Case study #1: Star Wars and its sprawling Expanded Universe
Case study #2: Doctor Who and its numerous, often not-well-advertised “specials”

Issue 3: Overlapping & Long-Running stories: Where’s the entry point?
Case study: Marvel, specifically the MCU, but especially long-running comics and shows in general

Issue 4: When Canon and Commentary Collide: What is “part of the story”?
Case study: J.K. Rowling and the Sexuality of Dumbledore (among other misadventures in possible retconning)

 

I hope you’ll share your thoughts on supplemental material, both the pros and the cons, in the comments throughout this blog series!